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Vital Signs report paints a new portrait of Toronto's growing population

Rahul Bhardwaj discusses Vital Signs at the Canadian Club of Toronto.

Toronto's shifting demographics reveal a city in rapid transition. An increasing number of young people are moving to the downtown core and creating a new wave of opportunities and challenges, according to the new Vital Signs report issued by the Toronto Community Foundation on October 1st. The annual report looks at citywide trends. This year, the report focuses on 12 areas ranging from economic developments to housing concerns. 
The Vital Signs report summarizes Toronto's recent accomplishments, including being named one of the top ten economically competitive cities on the globe and the fourth best place to live in the world, according to two different Economist reports, as well was named a "city of opportunity" by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and one of the top seven most intelligent cities by the Intelligent Community Forum.  
But one factor drives the report and that's the fact that Toronto has become the fourth largest city in North America, after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles. One in five Canadians lives in the Greater Toronto Region, with half of these people living in the city of Toronto. As one can imagine, this rise in population has contributed to a number of changes in the city of Toronto and it's surrounding regions. 

"People not only want to live here, they want to come here," Rahul Bhardwaj, President and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation, said in his speech at the Canadian Club of Toronto on Tuesday. 
Downtown Demographics
Toronto's downtown population tripled between 2006 and 2011, while growth in the suburbs dropped, the report says. "The children of the baby boomers (the echo boomers) sought access to jobs, transit, and downtown attractions over housing affordability and space (and a long commute) in the suburbs." 
As a result, nearly half the downtown population (47 per cent) is between the ages of 20 and 39, which is almost twice that of surrounding regions York, Peel, Halton, and Durham. The median age of residents in Toronto has dropped to the mid-30s, the report says, making Toronto a younger city population wise than the rest of Canada. We're making less babies too. The percentage of the population who are children continues to decrease despite population increases.  
This is not the case for our seniors, who make up close to 15 per cent of Toronto's population, which is one of the reasons why the city adopted Ontario's Seniors Strategy earlier this year. It's also a potentially huge problem, one Bhardwaj called the "silver tsunami." Overall, seniors make up 1 in 7 Canadians, but this is expected to climb to 1 in 4 by 2036. However, this serves as an opportunity for Toronto to become a leader in handling an aging population.
Beyond this, more immigrants are choosing to make Toronto home. In 2011, one in 12 Torontonians "had arrived from outside of the country within the past five years… Toronto has more than twice the proportion of recent immigrants as Canada (8.2 per cent versus 3.9 per cent national). Peel Region had the next highest proportion in 2011 (6.9 per cent)."

Evolving Economies
"An important indicator of vitality is connectivity," the report goes on. "More than 25.5 million people visited the Toronto Region in 2012, boosting the local economy by approximately $4.7 billion." This is up from the year before. Toronto's economy has continued to grow over the past few years ahead of the average Canadian and provincial rates.

As did employment, which "grew faster in Toronto (1.1 per cent) than in Ontario as a whole (0.5 per cent) in 2012," the report says. The largest area of employment growth occurred in the office sector, which represents almost half of all jobs in Toronto (47.9 per cent), according to the report.
Other sectors that flourished include film, television, and commercial production, as well as digital media, which together represent 25,000 full-time jobs and "contributed more than $1.2 billion to the city's economy in 2012 (5.9 per cent growth over 2011)." Publishing jobs and real estate jobs are also on the rise. Toronto Region's food and beverage production sector ("one of the largest in North America") currently employs 60,000 people, a number that is expected to double in the next 10 years. 
Median hourly earnings have also increased across the Toronto Region. But this comes with some hard news. Youth unemployment and underemployment rates are at an all time high. And while the percentage of Torontonians living in poverty has decreased slightly by some criteria, food bank usage has increased, as has the cost of healthy food. This has created a greater divide between the rich and the poor, earning us a 'C' grade on "equality of income distribution in 2013."
In more positive news, the cost of running a business in Toronto (as well as the drive to attract younger talent) has caused many suburban-based companies to relocate downtown. The cost of living, however, ranks as "severely unaffordable." The average cost of rent is increasing yet the number of vacant properties is decreasing. "Toronto has lived up to its modest commitment to build at least 1,000 units of affordable housing each year over the last three years," the report says. However, Bhardwaj cautioned in this speech, more emphasis needs to be placed on affordable housing as the waiting list is far too long.

Creative Cultural Hubs 
Contributing to Toronto's growth is the emergence of creative local economies. These are areas such as Rexdale, East Scarborough, and Thorncliffe Park that are engaging in new ways to "retain businesses, establish diverse new enterprises, and keep wealth within the neighbourhood," the report says. A key element of this is mixed-use buildings.

"The City's approval of mixed-use zoning will breathe new life and health into Toronto's apartment neighbourhoods." Small retail stores, home studios and workshops, farmers markets, community services such as health centres, and daycares are among the list of approved property uses. 
Additionally, three thriving "ethnoburbs," aka ethnic suburbs, are emerging in the Toronto region and giving the city new life. In these ethnoburbs, which consist of concentrated pockets of visible minorities, "local residents own, or have a stake in a large percentage of local businesses and have developed a full range of cultural institutions." 
Crucial to breathing new life into the city is the arts. Municipal funding for arts and culture increased in 2012, but "has yet to reach a goal set a decade ago, of $25 per capita arts and culture spending." Though we're not there yet (new funding, though difficult to receive, will ensure we're there by 2016), the report outlines the Toronto Art Council's list of positive impacts arts funding has had on Toronto's neighbourhoods. It has contributed to the beautification of the city, created opportunities for at-risk youth, attracted new business, increased tourism, and improved the local economy.
These are just some of the findings to come out of the 245-page report, which was compiled using recent statistics and studies, including census data. Yonge Street will continue reporting on issues stemming from Vital Signs in the coming weeks, including an interview with Rahul Bhardwaj in next week's issue discussing his five recommendations for a better Toronto. 

Sheena Lyonnais is the managing editor of Yonge Street.
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